Marriage abandonment is when one spouse abruptly leaves the other, severing all ties to financial and marital obligations. However, in no-fault divorce states like California, you don’t need to prove abandonment to file for divorce.

Let’s define marital abandonment and learn what to do if your spouse abandons you in California.

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How Do I Know If My Spouse Abandons Me?

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Marriage abandonment, also known as spousal abandonment or desertion, may happen in a few ways:

1. Unilateral Decision Without Notice

Without any discussion or notice to the other spouse, one spouse decides to leave the marital home and start a new life elsewhere. This departure is often abrupt, leaving the remaining spouse confused and emotionally distressed.

2. Extended Absence Without Communication

A spouse leaves home for a “temporary” period, such as for work, travel, or to visit family, but then ceases communication and doesn’t return. The absence extends over a significant period, indicating an intention to abandon the marriage.

3. Refusal to Support

Sometimes, a spouse may abandon the family financially but not physically. They may move out and refuse to contribute to the financial support of the remaining spouse and children, effectively deserting their responsibilities.

4. Abandonment Due to Addiction or Crime


A spouse might abandon their family due to addiction problems or criminal behavior, which leads them to prioritize their addictive behaviors or criminal activities over their family obligations.

5. Leaving Under the Pretense of Separation

A spouse may suggest a temporary separation to “work things out” but then use this separation to abandon the marriage entirely.

Remember, in California you don’t need to prove abandonment to file for divorce.

California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning you can simply file for divorce on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences” without assigning blame to one spouse for ending the marriage.

The benefit is if your spouse abandons your marriage, you can quickly move forward with filing for divorce.

What Are the Consequences of Abandonment Divorce in California?

Spousal abandonment won’t impact your ability to divorce in California, but it may have other repercussions.

The court may view abandonment as evidence that one spouse is incapable of parenting responsibly, impacting child support and alimony decisions.

And even though California is a 50/50 divorce state, spousal abandonment can influence how the court divides assets. The spouse who abandoned the marriage may lose out on a proportion of their marital assets and even be awarded a more significant portion of marital debts in the event of a default proceeding.

Filing for Divorce After Marriage Abandonment

Filing for divorce

If you suspect your spouse has abandoned your marriage, the first step is to consult an experienced family law attorney. They can help you determine the best course of action based on your circumstances.

Serving Divorce Papers When Abandoned

California law requires one spouse to physically locate and serve the other spouse with divorce documents to continue proceedings. In abandonment cases, this can be difficult when the location of the estranged spouse is unknown.

Fortunately, there are alternatives for spousal abandonment. Most commonly, the court may approve service by publication.

There are a few steps involved with service by publication:

1. Due Diligence in Locating the Spouse

Before a court allows service by publication, the filing spouse must demonstrate they’ve made diligent efforts to locate the missing spouse.

This typically involves searching through public records, contacting known relatives and friends, checking with the last known employer, and other reasonable efforts to find their whereabouts.

2. Petition the Court for Permission

Once these efforts have been exhausted, the filing spouse must petition the court for permission to serve the divorce papers by publication.

This involves submitting a detailed affidavit or declaration to the court, outlining all the steps taken to locate the missing spouse, and demonstrating that serving the papers personally isn’t feasible.

3. Court Approval

If the court is satisfied with the efforts to locate the missing spouse and agrees further attempts would be futile, it will grant permission to serve the divorce papers by publication.

4. Publishing the Notice

The court will specify a newspaper in the area where the divorce is filed or where the missing spouse was last known to live.

The divorce notice must be published in the newspaper for a certain number of weeks, usually four consecutive weeks. The notice will include basic information about the divorce action, the spouses’ names, and instructions for the missing spouse on how to respond.

5. Proof of Publication

After the notice has been published for the required duration, the newspaper will provide an affidavit of publication, serving as proof that the service by publication was completed as ordered. This affidavit must be filed with the court.

6. Proceeding with the Divorce

Once service by publication is completed and proof has been filed, the divorce process can continue even if the missing spouse doesn’t respond.

If there’s no response within a specified period, usually 30 days after the last publication or service of the Petition, the filing spouse can request a default judgment from the court.

Service by publication is essentially a last resort when all other attempts to serve divorce papers have failed due to the spouse’s absence.

It ensures the California divorce process can proceed, allowing the filing spouse to move forward with their life, even in the challenging circumstances of marriage abandonment.

Next Steps: Contact An Experienced Family Law Attorney

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Marriage abandonment is stressful, but with the right family law attorney, you’ll be well on your way to resolving the divorce and moving on with your life.

Let’s take the first step in putting this ordeal behind you. Reach out to me today for a consultation call, and we’ll carefully and strategically plan a path to success through this challenging time.

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